Help the Blind to Help Themselves: A History of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

In the first two parts of this series, we have seen how the building at 422 South Clinton Avenue offers a point of entry into the Lowenthal family’s contributions to Rochester’s history. This third and concluding installment of the series does not involve the Lowenthals; instead, it will focus on the origins and contributions of the building’s current occupant, the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Rochester had no agency serving the blind until the early twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, the closest such institution was the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia. Construction on the school began in 1866 and it opened in 1868. The institution provided academic and occupational instruction for those under the age of 21, but for Rochester residents who lost their sight after that milestone, either through accident or disease, life was often bleak, as the school did not provide training for adults.

The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired began as a club, then known as the Rochester Cooperative Association for the Blind. The group was founded in 1908 by four visually impaired young men: Jacob L. Frank (February 1871-April 26, 1933); Jesse Southworth (July 20, 1875-March 29, 1950); James Hugh Cowley (October 11, 1882-December 7, 1969); and Harry D. Dudley (b. June 27, 1888. Date of death not found). During this initial period, the four worked quietly, visiting and encouraging blind adults and teaching braille.

ABVI-431 main2

Original workshop space for the Rochester Association of Workers for the Blind ca. 1915,
431 East Main Street, Corner of Gibbs (located on the current site of the Eastman Theatre).
From: A Brief History of a Great Contribution to Our Blind Citizens (1928).

Among the people they encountered in this early period was a woman named Margaret Elizabeth Schoeffel (August 1878-November 4, 1958). Elizabeth, as she was known, was blind from birth and educated at the State School for the Blind in Batavia. She was so impressed with their efforts that she joined the organization as a “field worker” at a modest salary, so that structured and continuous instruction in reading braille, typing, and various handicrafts (e.g., knitting, crocheting, basket weaving, etc.) might be taught.

One of the early difficulties the group encountered was traveling to the homes of their various clients. An arrangement was worked out with Rabbi Horace J. Wolf (June 15, 1885-February, 17 1927) of Temple B’rith Kodesh. The rabbi and members of his congregation would transport Miss Schoeffel and the others where they needed to go for four hours each day. Miss Schoeffel married James Cowley on October 5th, 1921, and the couple continued their efforts for more than three decades thereafter.


Margaret Elizabeth Schoeffel (right) teaching a client to read braille (1915)
From: Second Annual Report of the Rochester Association of Workers for the Blind (Incorporated).

In 1913, the group was formally incorporated and renamed the Rochester Association of Workers for the Blind. Members of the Association were both sighted and non-sighted. The first president was John Erskine Wyant (June 12, 1884-August 12, 1956), himself blind since the age of nine and for many years the proprietor of the cigar stand at the Monroe County Courthouse (today the Monroe County Office Building).

By 1915, the group opened its first workshop space, in a lodging house owned by Mrs. Anna London at 431 East Main Street at Gibbs Street (located at the current site of the Eastman Theatre). The building afforded them an opportunity to open a shop where crafts like broom-making, rug-weaving and chair-caning were taught. The crafts were then sold at the monthly meetings of the Council of Jewish Women.

ABVI-men with brooms

Blind workers making brooms (1916)
From: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center

Over the years, the headquarters moved frequently. In 1913, the organization rented space in the Livingston Building (at 31 Exchange Street). By 1917, the offices had moved to larger quarters at 163 St. Paul Street. By 1921, it had relocated to 206 Andrews Street, and three years later it moved operations to 355 Monroe Avenue. The frequent moves concluded in 1927 when a generous bequest allowed the Association to construct its own facility, allowing adequate space for offices and instruction.

ABVI-white memorial

White Memorial Building at 439 Monroe Avenue (1928-1972)
From: A Brief History of a Great Contribution to Our Blind Citizens. (1928)

The building, which still stands at 439 Monroe Avenue (known as the White Memorial Building), was made possible through the legacy of Mrs. Catherine R. White (July 19, 1839-January 17, 1923). Mrs. White was the widow of John H. White, former proprietor of the United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs, and later superintendent of the New York offices of the firm that became the business rating company, Dun and Bradstreet. Mrs. White was a friend of Elizabeth (Schoeffel) Cowley’s father. At her death, Mrs. White’s estate was valued at over $1 million, and more than $200,000 of it went to the organization.

When it moved to the White Memorial Building, the group changed its name yet again, to the Association for the Blind of Rochester, Inc. By then, it had broadened its mission to include instruction on how to prevent blindness (for example, encouraging doctors to use silver nitrate to prevent neonatal blindness).

By 1961, the organization had changed its name once more, to the Association for the Blind of Rochester and Monroe County. The present moniker was adopted in 1985, when the group became the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Present home of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired,
422 Clinton Avenue South
From: Brennan.

The saga of 422 South Clinton Avenue comes full circle, when the Lowenthal family dissolved the Knitting Works in August 1971. As part of the process, they sold their property to the Association for the Blind of Rochester and Monroe County for the princely sum of one dollar.

Following necessary renovations, operations in the new location commenced with a celebratory open house, on September 11, 1972. Today ABVI’s services include early vision screening, regular vision care, vision rehabilitation therapy, counseling, employment readiness training, and other forms of assistance.

-Christopher Brennan


For Further Information:

Association for the Blind of Rochester Incorporated, A Brief History of a Great Contribution to Our Blind Citizens (Rochester, New York: The Association, 1928).

Lenti, Vincent. “A History of the Eastman Theatre,” Rochester History 49, no. 1 (January 1987).

McKelvey, Blake. “The History of Public Health in Rochester, New York,” Rochester History 18, no. 3 (July 1956).

Monroe County Clerk, Deed Book, liber 4142, p. 445-453.

Second Annual Report of the Rochester Association of Workers for the Blind (Incorporated) for the Year Ending March 31, 1915 (Rochester, New York: The Association, 1915).

Woods, Franklin E.  Some Facts About the Blind of Western New York (Buffalo, New York: Buffalo City and Erie County Bible Society, 1900).

Van Zandt, Raymond P.  A Handbook of Social Agencies of Rochester (Rochester, New York: Bureau of Municipal Research, 1928).

Newspaper Articles:

“The State Asylum for the Blind: Laying of the Corner Stone,” Union and Advertiser, September 7, 1866.

“State Institution for the Blind,” Union and Advertiser, July 16, 1868.

“Woman Receives Warning as She Watches Blind: State Worker Tells Her to See Eye Specialist,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 11, 1915.

“Blind Group to Lay Stone at Building,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 19, 1927.

“Blind Persons Attend Laying of Cornerstone of Building Made Possible by $200,000 Legacy,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 23, 1927.

“Frank Funeral Rites to be at St. Michael’s,” Democrat and Chronicle, April 28, 1933.

“John Wyant, 82, Dies: Blind Vendor 50 Years,” Democrat and Chronicle, August 13, 1956.

“Mrs. J. H. Cowley Funeral Private,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 7, 1958.

“Commends Workers for Blind,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 19, 2013.



Published in: on December 6, 2019 at 3:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

He Blinded Me with Science- The History of Ward’s Natural Science Establishment


White Sheep diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. From: Morry

If you have ever been drawn to a diorama, stared at a skeleton, or fawned over a fossil in any natural history museum in America, chances are you have witnessed the work or the influence of former Rochester resident, Henry A. Ward.

Henry Augustus Ward was born in the Flower City in 1834, and from a very young age demonstrated a fascination with the natural world. When he was just 13 years old, his parents sent him to live on the farm of a nearby naturalist, to study and build upon his growing collection of fossils and other geological specimens.

Ward furthered his learning while serving as an assistant to noted Harvard scientist, Louis Agassiz. His time in Cambridge was brief, however, as he accepted an offer in 1854 from General James Wadsworth of Geneseo to attend the School of Mines in Paris with Wadsworth’s son, Charles.

The pair took advantage of their new location and embarked on extensive voyages throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Africa, where Ward contracted Yellow Fever and nearly died. The robust young man nevertheless survived and brought a sizable collection of geological discoveries with him back to Paris.


Portrait of Henry Augustus Ward ca. 1850-1860. From: the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

Ward stayed in the City of Lights for about six years, financing his education by selling fossils he found in his daily travels to interested parties in London. The overseas experience deepened Ward’s love of the natural sciences and reinforced to him the value and commercial potential of such collections.

He returned to Rochester in 1860 with several crates filled to the brim with scientific specimens. Ward initially displayed his collection on the second story of the Rochester Savings Bank (which was then headed by his uncle, Levi Ward), before selling it in 1862 to the University of Rochester, where he was briefly employed as a professor.

At once a workshop and a museum, the early incarnation of Ward’s Natural Science Establishment represented the most complete collection of fossils, minerals, skeletons, and taxidermied animals in the country. Of particular interest was Ward’s stuffed gorilla, the first one ever seen in the United States.

Unfortunately, just seven years after the unparalleled collection took root on the university’s Prince Street campus, a devastating fire destroyed Ward’s building and most everything in it.

As the Rochester Union & Advertiser grimly reported, “the loss to science caused by the fire cannot be estimated.”

Ward-OG est_c1884

Ward’s museum on College Ave ca. 1884. From: Ward’s Natural Science Establishment Inc.-Its History, Reorganization, and Plans for the Future (1931).

Ward remained undeterred, viewing the loss as an opportunity for further specimen-collecting voyages. (He would circumnavigate the globe several times over the course of his life). He gradually built up his collection again, this time independent of the university in a nearby building on College Avenue, the entrance of which was guarded by two massive whalebones.


Ward’s whalebone arch. From: the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester N.Y.

Therein, Ward not only showcased his special items, but, along with his staff, prepared and processed orders of anatomical models, skeletons, stuffed animals, stones, and fossils for museums and educational institutions across the country.


A circa 1870 poster advertising the woolly mammoth on display at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment. From: the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

ward-skeleton kit

An order of hand, arm, and shoulder bones featured in Ward’s Catalog of Human Skeletons, Anatomical Models, Anthropology, Ethnology (1913).

Ward’s work drew attention from several high profile clients, including Buffalo Bill Cody, who charged Ward with stuffing a series of his Wild West conquests; P.T. Barnum, who entrusted Ward and his staff to mount the skin and skeleton of his beloved elephant Jumbo, after the animal was tragically killed in a railroad accident; and department store magnate, Marshall Field, who employed the entire natural history display that Ward had developed for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 as the starting block for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Ward_taxidermy ward_1883

Ward’s taxidermy department ca. 1883. From: Ward’s Natural Science Establishment Inc.-Its History, Reorganization, and Plans for the Future (1931).

Many of those who trained at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment went on to high profile positions themselves, becoming directors, curators, and taxidermists at major institutions like the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Aquarium.

ward-mastodon ribcage

A mastodon’s rib cage in the process of being reconstructed at Ward’s in 1922. From: the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, N.Y.

Henry Ward’s protegees spread his influence throughout the country long after the naturalist himself passed away in 1906. His sons carried on the family firm before donating it to the University of Rochester in 1930.

The current incarnation of the business, Ward’s Science, supplies a dizzying array of scientific kits, models, and devices to classrooms and museums for the enjoyment and education of students of all ages.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on November 26, 2019 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

What’s Cooking in Local History? – Part 1 (LHGD Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 4)


What better time to highlight our cookbook collection than the traditional season of food, glorious food? Patrons are not likely to think of Local History as a source of cookbooks, but in fact our division has a rapidly growing selection of locally-produced vintage cookbooks and newer works about heritage cooking, area wineries, and regional brewing. Many of the cookbooks were originally produced to raise funds for their respective organizations or churches. They also celebrate historic anniversaries, community pride, and group camaraderie around delicious dishes.

Below is a sampling of what we have, with more to come in later LHGD Newsletter issues. It is easy to believe that the authors had as much fun compiling the recipes as the books’ readers likely have making and eating them.

In 1800, the Rochester region was still very much a wilderness. Pioneer Cookery of the Genesee Country (1790–1825) (1996), by local author, Susan S. Kinsey contains 75 recipes of the period learned from her experiences as a historical interpreter. For many years, Kinsey offered “open hearth demonstrations of true pioneer cookery at the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, NY.”

Since recipes in the pioneer era had to be based on what was in the pantry, it is also a how-to book on resourceful cooking methods, offering instructions on pickling, making a summer drink called switchel, cooking dried apple pies, salting pork, as well as making and using cider molasses.

Because sugar was in short supply in Rochester’s early days, these recipes produce dishes that are often tart with a cider or molasses influence. It wasn’t until the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 that the Rochester region began to feature a more abundant and diverse food supply, which consequently broadened the area’s culinary repertoire.


Applehood & Motherpie by the Junior League of Rochester (1981, 1983).

We were recently gifted with two copies of the famous bestseller, Applehood & Motherpie (1981), “handpicked recipes from Upstate New York,” compiled by the Junior League of Rochester. The volume has been reprinted many times—we now have a 1983 and a 1998 edition. Fortunately, there are many additional copies here at Central and across the Monroe County Library System which can be borrowed and taken home!

Tastes of the Town-Favorite recipes from Rochester’s best restaurants, caterers, and bakeries (2005) was compiled by the Visiting Nurse Service to raise funds for Meals on Wheels. In the last 15 years, many of the establishments featured have passed on, but a piece of their history is here to be recreated in many combinations. How about this menu, for instance?:  Le Petit Bistro’s Portabella Napoleon, Charlie’s Baked Potato Soup, Keys’ Apple Cider Pork Medallions, and Simply Crêpes’ Raspberry Gulée Crêpes?


Tastes of the Town by the Visiting Nurse Service (2005).

Delicious Developments (1994), produced by the Friends of Strong Memorial Hospital, contains more than 350 thoughtfully detailed recipes as well as local historical tidbits and foodie asides lining its glossy margins. By the time you finish leafing through this lovely cookbook, you are reminded (or, perhaps, learn for the first time) that Rochester was once the wheat flour producing center of the world, and the home of both French’s Mustard and Fanny Farmer Candy. A much lesser known tidbit is the fact that “in 1876 peppermint was the major crop grown in Wayne County, New York.”


RPO Cooks! by the Rochester Philarmonic Orchestra (2008).

Apparently, musicians love to cook as demonstrated by two fundraising publications, Fan Fare-Favorite Recipes from Musicians, Guest Artists, and Friends of the RPO (2nd printing 1983), compiled by the Rochester Philharmonic League with fine pencil sketches by Natalie Schwartz of the performers with their recipes; and, RPO Cooks! Celebrating 85 Years with The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (2008).


Sausage and apple stuffing recipe from Concertmaster Juliana Athayde, featured in RPO Cooks! (2008)

Comfort foods, home-cooked dinner staples and some quite unique recipes are often found in the many small photocopied and stapled local cookbooks in our collection. Here is a sampling:  Favorite Recipes from the Bergen Presbyterian Church; We Gather Together-Recipes for Home and Hearth (1999) from Genesee Baptist Church; Iroquois Garden Club Dessert Book (1975); Family Favorites from the First Baptist Church of Penfield (1978); and, Apple Blossom Time-Williamson’s Bicentennial Cookery Book (1976)  “featuring regional recipes, unusual apple recipes . . . and helpful hints of by-gone days.” Leaf through these chapbooks and you are likely to encounter memories of family meals and special occasions from your own past.


Apple Blossom Time-Williamson’s Bicentennial Cookery Book by Williamson Apple Blossom Committee (1976).

Bringing the Market Home-Savoring the Seasons from the Rochester Public Market (2014), is a colorful cookbook with photos and recipes highlighting the market’s fresh produce throughout each of the four seasons. Take a look at the “Discovering Fall” and “Discovering Winter” chapters for holiday ideas, then visit the market on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. Here’s just a taste: Savory Pumpkin-Cheddar Bisque, Mom’s Thanksgiving Stuffing, Steak with Stout, Butternut Squash Latkes with Toasted Pine Nut & Sage Yogurt Sauce, and Baked Apple French Toast. Proceeds from the book were used to support the Market Token program for SNAP customers.


Bringing the Market Home by The Friends of the Rochester Public Market (2014).

And what is good food without a salubrious liquid to accompany it?

Finger Lakes Wineries-A Pictorial History (2000, 2003) is by Emerson Klees, a prolific author on the Finger Lakes region. The book’s appendix provides a description of grape varieties and a glossary of grape and wine terms.

LHGD4-beer and wine

Finger Lakes Wineries by Emerson Klees and New York Breweries by Lew Bryson and Don Cazentre.

For beer lovers, we have two newish books written by suds enthusiasts. Beer Lover’s New York-The Empire State’s Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars (2014) is by Sarah & Giancarlo Annese. As the authors note, “Home to Genesee Brewing Company, one of the oldest and most historic breweries in the state, Rochester has undergone a craft beer resurgence in recent years.”

The 2nd edition of New York Breweries (2014), by Lew Bryson and updated by Don Cazentre, a Syracuse native, profiles a dozen breweries in Western New York and a total of 89 from across the state. It also includes a short traveler’s guide to each region with mention of wineries, a detailed glossary, and five “A Word About…” sections on types of breweries, ales and lagers, and brewing with New York ingredients.

As last words to literally take home with you, here’s a definition of hard cider from Bryson and Cazentre’s book: “One of the oldest alcoholic beverages produced in the state, hard cider in now also the only one that can be sold legally in both grocery stores and liquor stores.”


-Hope Christansen

Published in: on November 21, 2019 at 2:42 pm  Comments (2)  

Technical Instruction So Valuable and Beneficial: The Origins of the Mechanics Institute

In an earlier post, it was noted that the former Lowenthal & Sons Knitting Works building at 422 South Clinton Avenue provided a point of entry for discussing three aspects of Rochester’s history. The second aspect is Max Lowenthal’s contribution to one of the area’s premier institutions of higher education. Originally called the Mechanics Institute, today it is known as Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

The story begins in 1885. At the time, many of Rochester’s businesses were industrial in nature, a prime example being Bausch + Lomb. Founder John Jacob Bausch (July 25, 1830-February 14, 1926) was continually frustrated by the city’s lack of skilled workers, which he needed for his fast-growing lens grinding operation.

He shared his disappointment with his partner Henry Lomb (November 24, 1828-June 13, 1908), who, in turn, discussed the issue with Max Lowenthal (February 22, 1843-August 28, 1914). During the conversation with Lomb, Lowenthal mentioned his recent trip to Germany, during which he had visited several newly established technical institutes. The two agreed that a similar institution should be created in Rochester.


Rochester Free Academy, First Home of the Mechanics Institute
Fitzhugh Street below West Main Street. From: City Hall Photo Lab.

They shared the idea with other entrepreneurs and on September 30, 1885, posted a notice in the Democrat & Chronicle calling for a meeting to discuss the following proposition:

“We, the undersigned manufacturers and employers consider the establishment of free evening schools in this city for instruction in [mechanical] drawing and such other branches of studies as are most important for industrial pursuits of great advantage to our people. We believe that … they would greatly assist in gradually securing to our city the technical instruction and training, which brings so valuable and beneficial results wherever it exists…”

The notice was signed by 33 individuals and firms, including Bausch + Lomb, Frank Ritter (president of the Ritter Dental Furniture Company), William Gleason (of Gleason Works), and Max Lowenthal (of Max Lowenthal & Sons). The idea was subsequently endorsed by Martin Anderson (president of the University of Rochester), Samuel A. Lattimore (University of Rochester chemistry professor), and Sylvenus A. Ellis (superintendent of the Rochester Public Schools).


One of the founders of the Mechanics Institute: Frank Ritter, ca. 1895
From: RIT Portrait Collection, RITArc-0439, RIT Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.

The meeting was held on October 1, 1885. All who spoke were in favor of the idea. Superintendent Ellis suggested that the Board of Education could assist in funding the instructor’s salary. It was moved that a committee be appointed to meet with the board and work with them to establish the school.

The resulting 14-member committee included: Henry Lomb, Max Lowenthal, Samuel Lattimore, Sylvenus Ellis, John Siddons, James S. Graham, John D.A. Mensing, Halbert S. Greenleaf, Egbert Hoekstra, Thomas Murphy, Frederick Gernandt, Herman Pfaefflin, August Pappert, and Oscar E. Hayden. We’ve met the first four. The others were representatives of a number of different industries such as iron working, wood working, printing, lithography, furniture manufacturing, and contracting.

The first meeting of the committee was held three weeks later on October 21, 1885, and the following officers were selected: Henry Lomb (President), Max Lowenthal (Recording Secretary), William Peck (Corresponding Secretary), and J. Harry Stedman (Treasurer). Peck was a journalist and historian of Rochester. Stedman was the president of a steam heat company.

RIT-trio portrait

Three Founders of the Mechanics Institute: Max Lowenthal, William Farley Peck,
Captain Henry Lomb, ca. 1895
From: RIT Portrait Collection, RITArc-0439, RIT Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
(The military rank for Lomb derives from his service in the Civil War.)

Much progress was made in the three weeks between the initial organizing meeting and the first assemblage of the committee. The institute raised subscriptions totaling $1,470 and the Board of Education granted free use of Gymnasium Hall, the top floor of the Rochester Free Academy building, which was Rochester’s first high school.

Publicity was swiftly generated for the program, and the response was overwhelming. The first class, which was held on November 25, 1885, counted 400 students! Given the enthusiastic response, a daytime class was added, to which 161 students were admitted. The school then created a second daytime program and 70 more pupils signed up.

More courses were soon added to the schedule. These included a practical mathematics class, with “reference to the trades and occupations in which the students are or may be engaged.” The Mechanics Institute also launched a course in natural philosophy, which covered such elements as the properties of matter, the dynamics of fluids, work and energy, and electricity and magnetism.

Rounding out the roster were classes in architectural drawing and industrial design.  By the end of the first year, 1,065 students—both male and female—had received instruction in the new technical school. (Unlike the University of Rochester, the Mechanics Institute admitted women since its inception.)


Art Students, ca. 1891, at what was then called the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute.
Note these students are all women. The man in the center is the first faculty member hired by Mechanics Institute, Eugene Chapman Colby.
The man on the right is the Principal of the school, Eben Rose. From: Rochester Public Library Local History Division

The success of the program can be gauged not only by the number of people it drew, but by the support it received among trade workers in the city. In other cities, opposition to technical institutes had been strong, but in Rochester, unions such as the Carpenters and Jobbers Union sent messages of thanks for “the benefit done to working men during the year.”

From these auspicious beginnings, the Mechanics Institute continued to gain strength and students. The school changed its name to the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute in 1891, and rebranded itself as the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1944. In 1978, RIT named the newest building on campus the Max Lowenthal Building, to honor one of its chief founders.

-Christopher Brennan

For Further Information:

RIT Portrait Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Gordon, Dane R. Rochester Institute of Technology: Industrial Development and Educational Innovation in an American City, 2nd ed. Rochester, New York: RIT Press, 2007.

Peck, William F. “Max Lowenthal,” in History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York: From the Earliest Historic Times to the Beginning of the 1907. New York: Pioneer Publishing, Co., 1908.

“A Technical School: An Important Movement Inaugurated in This City,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 30, 1885.

“’Arts of the Artisans’-Last Evening’s Meeting to Establish a Technical School,” Democrat and Chronicle, October 2, 1885.

“Technical Training School,” Union and Advertiser, October 7, 1885.

Published in: on November 5, 2019 at 4:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Haunted Books (LHGD Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 3)

light landscape sky sunset

Photo by Pixabay on

This edition of the Local History & Genealogy Newsletter focuses on HAUNTINGS.

What images or locations or stories does that word conjure in your mind?  Monsters and ghosts and graveyards?

What atmospheric elements does it evoke?

Footsteps behind you in the night LHGD3-2creeping thick, wet mists LHGD3-2 books that fly from their shelves LHGD3-2elevators going floor to floor, with doors opening and closing unbidden LHGD3-2 shadows moving in the corner of your eye LHGD3-2 music drifting down from an unknown source…

Rochester has its own special corner on the bizarre and unexplained, which our Division is eager to acknowledge when an opportunity arises. And what better time to showcase such spookiness than the week of Halloween?

According to Western New York author and “supernatural historian,” Mason Winfield, Rochester was once known as the “City of 1,000 Ghosts.” Below are books combining local folklore and legends, published reports and personal interviews (usually from those requesting anonymity). As these books reveal, more than half of a good ghost story is the real history behind it.


LHGD3_3 Ghost Walk: Chilling Tales from Rochester’s Past (2004) by Cindy Boyer, published by the Landmark Society of Western New York, celebrates that organization’s well-known annual event with 13 “of the most unnerving chapters from the city’s past. From grave robbery and cholera epidemics to industrial disasters and unsolved murders.”


LHGD3_3 For regional coverage, we have Ghosts and Hauntings of the Finger Lakes (2012) by Patti Unvericht published by Haunted America (a division of the History Press) and Haunted Finger Lakes: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide (2009) by Dwayne Claud.  Ms. Unvericht describes 22 locations in ten counties, including five listings from Monroe County: the Adams Basin Inn, the Eastman Colby House in Odgen, the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, Rochester’s Main Street Armory, and the old Fowler Funeral Home in Brockport.


Mr. Claud covers each of the Finger Lakes in turn with the exception of Canadice and Honeoye, which seemingly have no ghosts in their midst. There are 45 stories and photographs of the locations discussed, which highlight that they are attractive places to visit for ghost hunters and tourists alike. He has also included several photos of purported paranormal phenomena.


LHGD3-1 If you are seeking an even broader geographical scope, peruse Ghost Stories of New York State (2004) by Susan Smitten, which includes Rochester’s most famous paranormal happening, “The Rochester Rappings.” There are a total of 57 stories, including regional hauntings like “Seneca Falls Historical Society: Seneca Falls” and “Monroe Hall’s Six-Year-Old Spirit: SUNY Geneseo College.”


LHGD3-1 Ghosts, Etc.: Tales of Ghosts, Angels, Etc. (1997) was compiled by Shirley Cox Husted and sponsored by the Parma Museum. Here’s a small sampling of the stories: “The Lake Ontario Yobgorgle,” “Irondequoit’s Very Bad White Lady,” and “When the Devil Danced in LeRoy.” Interspersed among these tales are recipes for fun foods (chicken diablo or old apple grunt, anyone?) and green slime, as well as musings on the origin of Chili’s name, witches, and folk medicines. This is a delightful book.

IMG_8252 (1)

LHGD3_3 If you’re seeking local chills, look no further than the Rundel building, discussed in the 2013 booklet, Is the Central Library Haunted?, researched and written Anita Wahl. Wahl offers eyewitness accounts of inexplicable sights and sounds in this 1930’s building located on the possible site of a 1902 murder. Rundel’s spooky reputation even drew the Ghost Hunters television crew to film an episode here in 2012.

LHGD3-1 Former Monroe County Historian Shirley Cox Husted’s booklet, Valley of the Ghosts: Folklore and Legends from the storied Genesee Valley region of New York State (1982), is often cited by more recent chroniclers of local paranormal activity. It is a quick read with each ghost story comprising only a few paragraphs. More recent writers have often built upon (enhancing or embellishing, take your pick) the details found in her original stories.  She includes her own experience with “A Face in the Window.”


LHGD3-1 Local History owns six books by Mason Winfield, including his own light and humorous memoir, A Ghosthunter’s Journal: Tales of the Supernatural and the Strange in Upstate New York (1999). In The Paranormal Almanac of Western New York: a Book of Ghostly Lists (2012), Winfield largely discusses locations west of Rochester, including a very creepy “Ten Celebrated Shadows,” but one local vicinity makes the top ten. Shirley Cox Husted’s encounter with the Manitou Road Demon is listed at number five.

IMG_8248In 2008, Winfield and three co-authors focused on our city in Haunted Rochester: a Supernatural History of the Lower Genesee. The best-known local apparitions are included, often with informative local historical background: the avenging White Lady of Irondequoit, Henry Addison Leland’s haunting of the Green Lantern Inn, strange lights and icy children’s hands grabbing at workmen in the original Eastman Dental Clinic (a.k.a. “The House of Pain”) on East Main Street, and a section on “The Rundel Memorial,which does us proud.IMG_8284

LHGD3_3 You can’t end a list of ghostly books about Rochester without mentioning the Fox sisters and Mount Hope Cemetery.  Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism (2004) by Barbara Weisberg is an excellent starting point because it focuses not on the presumed paranormal activity, but on its historical significance. Whether fakers or not, the Fox sisters’ “rappings” or “knockings” created the business of spiritualism in America, right here on South Plymouth Avenue. More books on the birth of religious communities, cults, occultism, and spiritualism in our ‘Burned-over District’ will be covered in a future newsletter.

IMG_8246LHGD3_3 Buried Treasures in Mount Hope Cemetery: a Pictorial Field Guide (2018) by Richard O. Reisem with photographs by Donald S. Hall and Ron Richardson is a handy volume small enough to carry around on a walking tour of the cemetery. A large foldout map with all the internal roads identifies the locations of the graves, monuments, and mausoleums of prominent locals and plots of organizations. The book goes quadrant by quadrant and gives the reader brief biographies of those buried.

candle creepy dark decoration

Photo by Pixabay on

Happy Halloween!

-Hope Christansen






Published in: on October 28, 2019 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Knit and Purl: The Rochester Knitting Works

History is all around us, if we but have eyes to see. A case in point is the rather large, but nondescript building at 422 South Clinton Avenue.


422 South Clinton Avenue. The plaque above the doorway to the left reads:
“Rochester Knitting Works, Max Lowenthal and Sons”
From: Brennan

Today, it houses the headquarters for ABVI (Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired)-Goodwill, but it also offers a window into three aspects of Rochester’s rich history. First, it serves as an exemplar of the garment industry for which Rochester was once well-known. The edifice is the former home of the Rochester Knitting Works, also known as Max Lowenthal and Sons, a century-old, family-owned firm. (The site’s other historical connections will be discussed in future blog posts.)


Max Lowenthal, Founder of Rochester Knitting Works. From:
Democrat and Chronicle, August 29, 1914.

Advertisements in the Rochester city directories suggest that the Rochester Knitting Works was founded in 1868, but investigations into other records suggest a more complex progression. The firm was founded by Max Lowenthal (February 22, 1843-August 28, 1914), the youngest of four children of Elias Lowenthal (January 13, 1799-August 26, 1863) and his wife Sophia Samson (November 29, 1797-April 9, 1889).

Before coming to the United States in 1852, the Lowenthals lived in Bolkenhain, Silesia (then part of Prussia; today called Bolków, Poland). Elias was a merchant in the Old World, and upon arriving in New York City, he set himself up in business selling linen; however, a partner absconded with the profits and left Elias bankrupt.

Due to the family’s straitened circumstances, Max began working at a young age. By the time of the 1860 census (when he was 17), he was already employed as a printer/compositor for the Harper Brothers publishing house (today, Harper and Row), later doing editorial work for the company.

He arrived in Rochester in 1864, where he temporarily served as the associate editor of the Rochester Beobachter (a German-language daily newspaper) while the previous holder of that position campaigned for Abraham Lincoln’s re-election.

Lowenthal then gained entry into Rochester’s clothing industry, working as a clerk for Samuel Rosenblatt, the owner of a millinery (ladies’ hats) and fancy goods business at 42 State Street. By 1870, he had established his own millinery business as Pincow and Lowenthal at 107 East Main Street. His partner was his sister Henrietta (Lowenthal) Pincow (May 1833-February 12, 1912), whose husband had died a few years before.

It is likely that the 1868 founding date included in the Knitting Works’ advertisements implied a direct descent from Pincow and Lowenthal rather than the establishment of the Rochester Knitting Works itself. Henrietta continued operating the millinery business until 1879, well after her brother Max had purchased his first knitting machine and set up shop on Mumford and Mill Streets (in what is now the High Falls District) in 1872. It is from this date, rather than the 1868 date, that the Lowenthals entered the knit goods business.

By 1881, Lowenthal had 50 machines (some hand-powered, some automated) and 100 employees producing men’s and children’s wear, leggings, stockings, hoods, jackets, mittens, and other articles; however, like other factory owners of the era, he was often at odds with his workers.

In 1895, his non-unionized female mitten knitters decided to strike when Lowenthal reduced their pay to keep his prices competitive. No follow-up articles could be found detailing the settlement of the strike, but given the unorganized nature of the walkout, and the fact that Lowenthal quickly advertised for replacement workers, it is likely that the employees were fired and the strike was broken.


Advertisement for Lowenthal’s knitting works
From: 1890 Rochester City Directory.

In 1871, Max Lowenthal married Louisa Oberfelder (February 15, 1850-March 4, 1919) and with her had eleven children: Matilda (later Mrs. David S Hays), Harry, Frances, Eugene, Louis, Sidney, Ella, Esther, Mabel (later Mrs. Herbert H.  Harris), Edna, and Arthur. In 1901, he named his sons, Harry and Eugene, as partners in the firm. A decade later they would be joined by his youngest son, Arthur.

One of the first decisions the new partners made was to relocate from their East Main Street headquarters to a larger building. The new factory they constructed at 422 South Clinton boasted 58,000 square feet of floor space, with room to accommodate more than 300 employees.

They would need all this space during the Second World War for the production of sweaters, trigger finger mittens, mosquito head nets, and knit jungle shirts for soldiers serving abroad. In 1945, the firm was presented with an Army-Navy “E” award, which was presented to companies for excellence in war production.

lowenthal-e award

Arthur M. Lowenthal (right) presented with the Army-Navy “E” Award award for excellence in war production. From: 
Democrat and Chronicle, February 10, 1945.

The company fell on hard times after the war as changes in fashion and lower-priced competition from Europe and Asia undermined their profits. The Rochester Knitting Works building closed in 1971, after which its president, Robert L. Lowenthal (Eugene’s son and Max’s grandson) joined a real estate firm in Pittsford, NY bringing the three-generation clothing business to an end.



Robert L. Lowenthal (1911-1996). From:
Democrat and Chronicle, September 18, 1968.


-Christopher Brennan

For Further Information: (

Rochester City Directories, 1865-1971

McKelvey, Blake. “The Germans of Rochester: Their Traditions and Contributions.” Rochester History 20, no. 1 (January 1958).

McKelvey, Blake. “The Men’s Clothing Industry in Rochester’s History.” Rochester History 22, no. 3 (July 1960).

Peck, William F. “Max Lowenthal,” in History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York: From the Earliest Historic Times to the Beginning of the 1907. New York: Pioneer Publishing Co., 1908.

Newspaper Articles:

“The Entire Stock of Fancy Dry Goods.” Democrat and Chronicle. March 6, 1879.

“Max Lowenthal.” Union and Advertiser. December 24, 1881.

“A Card.” Democrat and Chronicle. February 24, 1884.

“Death of Mrs. Sophie Lowenthal.” Union and Advertiser. April 9, 1889.

“Textile Workers: Strike of Operatives in the Lowenthal Shop.” Union and Advertiser, March 26, 1895.

“Girl Knitters Strike.” Union and Advertiser. March 28, 1895.

“Co-Partnership Notice.” Democrat and Chronicle. January 2, 1901.

“Max Lowenthal Dies After Active Career: Prominent for Years as Editor and Business Man.” Democrat and Chronicle. August 29, 1914.

“Lowenthal Firm Given E [Flag] for Clothing Fighting Men,” Democrat and Chronicle. February 10, 1945.

“Knit 1, Purl 2 Their Business 90 Years: Max Lowenthal and Sons Turn Out Large Variety of Worsteds.” Democrat and Chronicle. January 5, 1958.

“Lowenthal to Close Knit Goods Factory.” Democrat and Chronicle. April 20, 1971.

“Max Lowenthal and Brother Have Outgrown Present Quarters.” Democrat and Chronicle, September 9, 1902.


Published in: on October 23, 2019 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Kool Things- The History of the J. Hungerford Smith Company

If you are artistically inclined, chances are you’ve heard of the Hungerford Building. The sprawling industrial edifice on the corner of North Goodman and East Main Streets has housed several studio spaces over the past few decades, but it was originally home to the largest producer of  fruit syrups and ice cream toppings in the country.


The Hungerford Building at 410 North Goodman Street. From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 1, 1927.

The building’s namesake, J. Hungerford Smith, began his career as a pharmacist in the hamlet of Au Sable Forks, NY. He opened up a drug store there in 1879, but soon found himself disappointed with the products available for the soda fountain in his shop.


J. Hungerford Smith. From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 20, 1932.

Finding the flavorings for ice cream sodas and sundaes too artificial tasting, Smith put his chemistry background to good use and proceeded to conduct experiments with a variety of fruits and foodstuffs.

The resulting formulas proved successful and word of Smith’s wares quickly spread throughout the state, drawing visitors to Au Sable Forks such as showman P.T. Barnum and President Grover Cleveland. These celebrity taste testers acted as early influencers, helping to promote Smith’s products to a wider audience.

The demand for Smith’s “true fruit” syrups and ice cream toppings soon outpaced his pharmaceutical business, so the chemist-turned-entrepreneur set up a factory to manufacture his soda fountain fare, first in Au Sable Forks, then in Plattsburgh, NY. It wasn’t long before Hungerford outgrew that town as well, and in the late 1880s, he began setting his sights on New York City.

Before he was able to make the move, a group of Rochester businessmen visited Smith in Plattsburgh and offered him substantial capital should he establish his business in their city. Smith agreed, and in 1890, he set up shop at 19 Elm Street (now Andrew Langston Way).

hungerford_early ad_DC__Jun_8__1893_

A circa 1893 ad for J. Hungerford Smith, when the company sold a variety of products including fly paper and baking powder. From: Democrat & Chronicle, June 8, 1893.

By century’s end, the J. Hungerford Smith Company counted 200 employees.


A circa 1904 ad for J. Hungerford Smith, “Manufacturing Chemists.” From: Rochester City Directory, 1904.

In order to accommodate this rapid growth, the company relocated to a sizable railside lot on the southeast corner of North Goodman and East Main Streets in 1900.

hungerford map-1900

The J. Hungerford Smith “laboratory” at 410 North Goodman Street in 1900. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1900.

The firm started out in an industrial edifice on the property that had manufactured rifles during the Spanish-American War, then, over time, constructed additional structures on the site, eventually amassing five buildings totaling more than 200,000 square feet of space.


The company’s campus as it appeared in 1935. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

Therein, employees worked tirelessly to create J. Hungerford Smith’s signature products. The outfit was especially well known for its line of “true fruit” syrups, including Orangeade, Cherry Chic, Niagara punch, and Tangy Club punch, curiously referred to as “the men’s favorite.” Customers could purchase these thirst-quenching beverages at soda fountains and lunch counters, or mix the syrups with water (carbonated or still) at home.

hungerford_fountain ad_DC__Jul_13__1915_

This circa 1915 ad features a soda jerk serving Smith’s Royal Purple Grape Juice. From: Democrat & Chronicle, July 13, 1915.

In addition to its original beverage offerings, J. Hungerford Smith also manufactured the flavor concentrate for root beer giant, A&W.

The soda fountain supplier offered an array of ice cream toppings as well, like hot fudge and maraschino cherries. The latter were made solely with fruits from area farms until the demand outgrew local sources.


Surveying maraschino cherry production at the J. Hungerford Smith plant in Rochester. From: Democrat & Chronicle, October 23, 1955.

Business continued to prosper long after founder J. Hungerford Smith passed away in 1932.

In the 1950s, the firm opened plants in Cleveland, OH, Modesto, CA, Humboldt, TN, as well as a Michigan facility devoted entirely to cherry processing. The following decade, the company established a Canadian operation in Toronto and acquired A&W Restaurants.

The same year that J. Hungerford Smith Co. took ownership of the fast-food chain—1963—the firm left its longtime urban headquarters on North Goodman Street for a new factory in Victor, NY. It remained at the location just five years before moving to Tennessee, by which time the business had been acquired by the United Fruit Company.


Currently owned by Conagra Foods, J. Hungerford Smith continues to manufacture a wide variety of fruit syrups and ice cream toppings. The eponymous edifice the company left behind went on to become a haven for local artists[1] and the home of several businesses, including, somewhat appropriately, Eat Me Ice Cream.

-Emily Morry

[1] Including a number of local bands, such as Ringo Bango and his Talking Dog.




Published in: on October 17, 2019 at 3:44 pm  Comments (3)  

What’s New in Local History & Genealogy? (LHGD Newsletter, Vol.1, No. 2)

LHGD1_newsletterWow!  We received a great pile of donations this summer—over 250 gifted books!  Our Fall “Newly Arrived” Book List is out, comprising a record 6 pages of “new to us” books (hardcover, softcover, booklets, and chapbooks) now on the shelves for your browsing pleasure.  The books include lots of vintage photographs, stories, recipes, poems, and even a diet, with some gore and mayhem along the way.  Just a few of these items are highlighted below.


If you are interested in true crime in Rochester, then you should read Michael Benson’s books describing the victims, circumstances, locations, and investigations of infamous local murders.

Because he is locally born and bred with family still living in Rochester, Benson conveys a personal level of knowledge, involvement, and empathy in his work. He has followed up his popular 2015 book, The Devil at Genesee Junction, with Nightmare in Rochester, The Double-Initial Murders (2018), written with private investigator, Donald A. Tubman. Quoting from his introduction: “in 1971, there began a series of hideous murders…the three victims were little girls, and…each had the same first and last initial.”


Benson’s latest true crime work.

Michael Benson will discuss the double initial murders at the first Rochester’s Rich History presentation of the 2019-2020 season. The talk will be held in the Kusler-Cox Auditorium from 1:00-2:30 pm on Saturday, September 21st.

Local author Blair T. Kenny just sent us his new book, The Black Hand Society of Rochester (2019) which takes place approximately 50 years before The Mob Wars, his popular book of last year. Like his previous work, it is a combination of text and images of original newspaper clippings and photographs, all in stark black and white which adds an appropriate visceral quality.

Seaway Trail Lighthouses, An Illustrated Guide to the Historic Lighthouses Along New York State’s Lakes, Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers (1989) is for those who love lighthouses—to view, to visit, and to explore. The booklet contains a sketch and history of 19 publicly and privately-owned lighthouses. It includes Rochester’s own Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, as well as two others within easy driving distance, Old Sodus Lighthouse and Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, both of which are open to the public.  Our 1989 copy is the oldest version of this publication which is reprinted on a regular basis.



The Hojack Line Remembered Oswego to Lewiston, Moving Farm Goods to Market & Coal to the Power Plants (2019) by local rail chronicler, Richard Chait is literally a vintage photograph album with informative, descriptive captions. It is a relief and pleasure to learn that some of the Hojack Line’s depots and stations are surviving as museums & restaurants.


Railroad historian Richard Chait’s latest work.

George Lennon lived two very different lives with enormously different beliefs. In 1921, he was a commanding officer in the West Waterford Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), committed to disrupting and supplanting British rule in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). During that rebellion, he put a neighborly policeman to death for treason.

Much later, in 1946, Lennon settled in Rochester. Here he became attracted to “the pacifism of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and, [became] …a founding member with Chester Carlson, inventor of xerography, of the Rochester Zen Center.”  Terence O’Reilly wrote his biography, Rebel Heart: George Lennon Flying Column Commander (2009) published by Mercier Press in Ireland.

George Lennon’s son, Ivan Lennon, a school teacher in Rochester, wrote a very different kind of book, Ulster to the Deise: Lennons in Time (2011). Lennon’s work is more a journey of discovery about Ireland, its history, his own genealogy, and about his father before he knew him.


Two takes on Lennon’s dual lives.


Courtesy of John Marshall High School comes Celebrations-Tributes to the Women of Our Community (2002), a compilation of 161 tributes, stories, and poems by students about significant, respected women in their lives–mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, teachers, and even a principal. Many are accompanied by heartfelt photographs like the image featured on the cover.


The result of a terrific project at John Marshall High School.

Genealogy novices, enthusiasts, and researchers will certainly benefit from 3 newly gifted books from local researcher, Stephan Clarke, and 1 gifted from another division. All are in like-new condition. Two of the volumes reflect the new technologies now available to genealogists and two discuss more old school research methods:

Advanced Genetic Genealogy: Techniques and Case Studies (2019), edited by Debbie Parker Wayne of Wayne Research.

NextGen Genealogy, The DNA Connection (2015) by David R. Dowell

Civil and Military List of Rhode Island 1647-1800 (reprint) originally compiled by Joseph Jenks Smith and published in Providence in 1900.

Some Anglicised Surnames in Ireland by Padraig Mac Giolla-Domhnaigh, published in Dublin by the Gael Co-Operative Society Ltd. in 1923.


A Great Surprise!LHGD1_wow graphic

Photography!  What a wonderful invention it must have seemed to those who viewed the first developed images.  Today we take hundreds of casual shots on a regular basis, although careful studio portraits, like the ones seen below, still exist.

LHGD2_cabinet cards

Seven mystery cabinet cards.

Captured are eight young people dressed in their Sunday best with slicked-down or oh-so-carefully curled hair forever frozen in time, held in a perfect moment in our past.

Who are they?  This is what we know so far.  The University of Kentucky made a donation to the Rome (NY) Historical Society.  In turn, the Executive Director of the Rome Historical Society thoughtfully mailed us these seven “cabinet card” portraits.  The subjects are not identified, and we do not know their exact dates, only the names of the studios printed on the cards.


Clues provided by the studio names.

With this information we were able to ascertain the period of each studio through City Directory listings: S. Miller’s, 156 State Street (1889-1890/1897-1904); Walter, 742 N. Clinton St. (1894-1911); Schaefer, Sun Beam Gallery, 146 E. Main Street (1884-1898); J.W. Taylor, [no street] Rochester, NY (1870-1918); Levi Sherman, Photographer, 40 State Street (1881-1888).

More details on these cabinet cards will follow in a future LHGD Newsletter. In the meantime, if anyone recognizes a great-great grandparent in one of these photos, please let us know!


Filling the Gaps LHGD1_puzzle graphic 

As a running feature of each Local History & Genealogy Division Newsletter, listed below are some more volumes we need for our yearbooks collection:

Nazareth Academy, The Senior Year Book, missing 1912, 1913, 1914, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1933.

Nazareth Academy, The Lanthorn, missing 1950 (the only one!).  It closed in 2010.

Remember: Don’t throw out that scrapbook, company newsletter or old catalog from a local manufacturer before you give us a call! 

-Hope Christansen

Published in: on September 18, 2019 at 5:13 pm  Comments (1)  

Listen to me, I’ve got a Stereo, Stereo (scope)!

Walk into the average home in Rochester and you’ll probably find at least one inhabitant captivated by their cell phone screen. In the late 19th century, one might have encountered a similar scene, only in place of the all-mesmerizing mobile phone, one would likely find a stereoscope.

A stereo-what?

The stereoscope traces its origins to British scientist, Charles Wheatstone, who uncovered an interesting illusion in 1838.


Portrait of Charles Wheatstone by Samuel Laurence. From: Apples to Atoms by W.D. Hackman (London, 1986).

He found that if you drew two pictures of something from two slightly different perspectives and then viewed each one with a different eye, your mind would blend them into a single, three dimensional image. (The concept should be familiar to anyone in possession of a View-Master).


Looking through a stereoscope. From: Morry.

Wheatstone created a table-sized apparatus to view this effect–the first stereoscope–which was later bested by a couple of smaller, simplified hand-held models designed by British scientist, David Brewster and American physician, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.


A stereoscope similar to Holmes’ model at the Local History & Genealogy Division. From: Morry.

Holmes deliberately didn’t patent his model in the hopes that the product would quickly gain popularity.

It did.

Several firms across the United States began manufacturing stereoscopes in the 1860s, which created a market for countless photographers and publishing firms to create the images (called stereographs, stereoviews, or stereoscopic cards) to be viewed with the devices.


Some of the many stereoscopic cards in the Local History & Genealogy Division’s collection. From: Morry.

Stereoviews covered a gamut of scenes from cityscapes and tourist attractions to disasters and curiosities. Some images were produced from pre-existing photo negatives, while other firms had photographers produce a stream of new images to keep up with the demand during the stereoscopic craze of the late nineteenth century.

Consumers amassed stereoviews with the same enthusiasm shown by later collectors of postcards, stamps, and baseball cards. Stereograph viewing became a ubiquitous mode of parlor entertainment in middle class homes from the 1870s to the early 1900s.

Rochester boasted over a dozen businesses involved in the stereoview trade. The work of several firms are represented in the Local History Division’s stereoscopic card collection.

Charles W. Woodward began his career as a picture frame maker and a dealer of fine arts goods on State Street before becoming one of the most prominent stereo card publishers in the country in the 1870s. By 1876, his company counted 4,000 images in its inventory.

stereo-woodward ad_1876

A circa 1876 ad for C.W. Woodward’s State Street shop. From: Rochester City Directory, 1876.

The following Woodward-published image features a scene from the opening day of the Rochester Driving Park in August 1874.

stereo-driving park-woodward-rsg00128

Rochester Driving Park (1874), published by C.W. Woodward. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

The park on the city’s Northwest side briefly held the status of being the fastest one-mile track in the United States as well as the most famous racetrack in the world.

Internationally-known destinations like the Driving Park were common stereoview subjects as were regional sites frequented by locals.

The Spencer House, seen in the following Woodward stereoview, featured several parlors, dining rooms, and a stable capable of accommodating 100 horses. It was one of several resort inns that cropped up along the shore of Lake Ontario in the late nineteenth century.

stereo-spencer house-woodward-rsg00061

Spencer House in Charlotte (ca. 1880), published by C.W. Woodward. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

The Charlotte hotel, which burned down in 1882, is one of many lost local sites preserved by stereoscopic imagery.

Charles Webster, a photographer and stereograph vendor, captured the following two buildings that have long since been razed:


Monroe County Jail (ca. 1890), by Charles Webster. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

The third incarnation of the Monroe County Jail, built in 1885, stood on Exchange Street and featured 52 cells. It was deemed more secure than its predecessor, but quickly proved inadequate. It was eventually superseded with the current jail in 1970.

While the H.H. Warner building is still a fixture of St. Paul Street, its neighbor in the stereograph below did not stand the test of time. Known alternately as Grace Church and St. Paul’s Church, it was replaced with the Strand Theatre in the 1910s. (The RTS Transit Center currently marks the site.)

stereo-warner block-webster-rsg00038

H.H. Warner Building and Grace Church (ca. 1870) by Charles Webster. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

Another lost religious relic is captured in this stereoview published by Isaac Sanderson:

stereo-central church-sanderson-rsg00073

Central Church (ca. 1875) by Isaac Sanderson. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

The second building of the Central Presbyterian Church, built in 1858, stood on Plymouth Avenue north of Main Street. The stereoview above, produced around 1875, showcases the 125-foot octagonal tower that once graced the edifice’s roof. The tower was known to sway violently during windstorms and was eventually deemed unsafe and torn down in 1901.

Coincidentally, disasters and near-disasters were also common subjects of stereoscopic fare. Several Rochester publishers sold images of the city’s 1865 flood, giving latter-day viewers a graphic sense of the devastation the wild waters had wrought.


The Great Flood of 1865, published by P.B. Bradley. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

The image above, sold by photographic material vendor Peter Bradley, depicts the damage done on Buffalo Street (now Main Street), not far from his shop at 118 Front Street.

stereo-PB bradley ad-1870

A circa 1870 ad for P.B. Bradley’s photographic materials shop. From: Rochester City Directory, 1870.

Four years after the flood, another unique event captured the interest of Rochesterians and those involved in the stereographic business.


The launch of the Hyperion (1869) by C. Bierstadt. From: Local History & Genealogy Division.

This image, produced by Charles Bierstadt, depicts the liftoff of a hot-air balloon piloted by Professor S.A. King in October 1869. The voyage was King’s 140th, and the launch of his balloon, The Hyperion, drew a crowd of some 10-20,000 people to the front of the Monroe County Courthouse.

The triumphant launch was not followed by an equally triumphant landing. Four hours after taking off, the air vessel plummeted into a field of tree stumps and brush outside of Cazenovia, NY. (King and his six passengers, somewhat shaken, but unharmed, returned to Rochester by train the following day.)

Viewing these stereographs as standalone images hardly does them justice. Their true power lies in the encompassing, three-dimensional views they produce when seen through a stereoscope. Fortunately, the Local History & Genealogy Division has a such a device in addition to a vast collection of stereoviews so that patrons can feel as though they are witnessing these historical sights firsthand.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on September 9, 2019 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

From Liquors to Bitters Pt. 3: the History of the Fee Brothers



Fee Brothers at 453 Portland Avenue. From: Morry

When last we caught up with the Fee Brothers, the family-run liquor retailer was making its way through Prohibition by boosting its production of sacramental wines.

While el vino did flow in substantial quantities at the Fee Brothers Water Street headquarters in the 1920s, the company’s wine sales could not compare to its previous wholesale and retail liquor earnings.

Since these products were verboten during the Noble Experiment, Rochesterians did some experimenting of their own, manufacturing (questionable) homemade brew and booze. This illicit hooch was often as potent as it was unpleasant in taste, which led to the rise in popularity of mixed drinks and cocktails.

Here, the Fee Brothers saw an opportunity. The firm began producing syrups, flavorings, mixers, and bitters which customers could then use to improve upon their unsavory swill.

Fee3_fruit syrups lady_Jul_5__1931_

While this ad suggested that customers could blend Fee Fruit Syrups with water, it is likely that many consumers chose something a little more potent. From: Democrat & Chronicle, July 5, 1931.

This temporary line of non-alcoholic offerings (along with legally-produced altar wines) allowed the company to survive Prohibition, and when the Noble Experiment reached its conclusion in 1933, Fee Brothers was the first local firm to carry the formerly contraband product.

On December 4, 1933, employees bottled more than 3,000 cases of sherry, port, and wine in preparation for the end of the 13-year-long alcohol ban the following day. (The company also ordered 1000 cases of whiskey and gin for rush delivery, but were informed that only 100 cases could be ordered at a time due to the high demand.)

Under the leadership of John C. Fee II, the firm once again offered a wide array of liquors before deciding to focus on wine in the late 1930s. Fee later proposed scaling back even further, informing his wife Blanche in 1951 that he wanted to get out of the wine business. He died from a heart attack shortly thereafter.

In accordance with her husband’s final wishes (which were unknown to the rest of the family at the time), Blanche Fee contacted the New York State Liquor Authority, whose agents inspected the company’s leftover inventory before breaking up the remaining wine barrels with hatchets and dumping their contents into the Genesee River.

fee3-1935 map

Agents dumped the Fee Brothers remaining wine stock from behind the warehouse at 21-37 Water Street into the Genesee River. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

With the business’ future profits awash in the river, Fee Brothers had no choice but to develop a new line of products in order to stay afloat.  A return to the company’s Prohibition-era incarnation was deemed the most logical option. To help with this task, Blanche Fee enlisted her son, John C. “Jack” Fee III.

Not wishing to give up his day job as a chemist, Jack Fee continued working at Kodak and spent his evenings tinkering with new Fee Brothers products, often testing them out on lucky neighbors during cocktail hour.

Building upon the company’s orange bitters and “frothy mixer” recipes (the only ones salvaged from the Prohibition era), Jack expanded the family firm’s non-alcoholic line to include countless cordials, mixers, and syrups.

Fee3_cherry Bitter vat

A vat of cherry bitters at the Fee Brothers warehouse. From: Morry.

The company became especially well-known for its bitters—flavoring agents made from roots, herbs, barks, and aromatics that are dashed into classic cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. Having started with only one varietal during Prohibition, Fee Brothers went on to carry half a dozen kinds of bitters by the end of the 20th century.[i]


Two of the Fee Brothers’ many bitters varieties. (Location: St. Ambroeus in Nolita) From: Morry.

By that time, bitters had begun to experience a resurgence in popularity thanks in part to the research of cocktail historian Ted Haigh, who uncovered that the original recipe for the Martini contained orange bitters.

Fee 3_orange bitters

An original Fee Brothers Orange Bitters label. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

It was in the midst of this cocktail revival that the Fee Brothers’ business really took off. As Jack Fee informed the Democrat & Chronicle in 2014, “Things turned around like a bloody boomerang!”

The firm received an additional boost when Angostura—the Trinidad-based company often credited with originating bitters—halted production for a time during the 2000s, and redirected their customers to Rochester.

Fee3_Orange Bitters

A South Carolina-bound pallet loaded with the ever-popular orange bitters. From: Morry.

Marking its 155th anniversary this year, Fee Brothers, located at 453 Portland Avenue, is currently run by siblings Joseph and Ellen Fee, who represent the fourth generation involved in the family business.

Their company, which began as a one-room grocery store on South Avenue, now ships its renowned products to customers all over the world.

fee 3_world map

The Fee Brothers’ global reach. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.


-Emily Morry

Many thanks once again to Ellen Fee, Erica Fee, and Mary Fee Spacher for sharing the wonderful story of their family’s business and for allowing me to visit and photograph their warehouse and museum.


Ellen Fee, Erica Fee, and Mary Fee Spacher, members of the fourth and fifth generations of the Fee family. From: Morry.



[i] The company now makes a astounding 18 varietals, more than any other bitters manufacturer in the world!

Published in: on August 26, 2019 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)